Biz Community Urges Lawmakers To Avoid Tax Hikes

It’s tax day for the joint legislative budget committee in Albany and business organizations on Thursday lined up against proposals in the budget that would hike taxes and fees.

The $168 billion spending plan introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would increase revenue by $1 billion through fee and tax increases, working to close a $4.4 billion deficit.

“Rather than pursuing new or increased tax measures, New York needs to focus more on its spending,” said, Heather Briccetti, the president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State.

“In his State of the State message, the Governor argued that increasing the cost of state and local taxes makes New York less competitive – and helps other states at our expense. We couldn’t agree more, and would emphasize that this is true whether the tax increases come from federal or state legislative actions.”

The Democratic-led Assembly is expected to propose a budget resolution next month that would increase taxes on the rich. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie pointed to the December federal tax law that cut rates, which he said benefited wealthier taxpayers.

It’s likely that Senate Republicans will oppose broad-based tax increases, but the deficit, which shrinks to $1.7 billion when spending is capped at a 2 percent ceiling, still needs to be dealt with in one way or another.

“Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders must recognize that New York has a spending problem – not a revenue problem. Any proposal to enact new taxes or expanding existing ones must be rejected outright,” said Greg Biryla of Unshackle Upstate. “Hardworking taxpayers are sick and tired of being treated like Albany’s own ATM.”

Albany’s Tax Debate May Seek Advantages In Federal Law

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not minced words when it comes to the perceived impact of the federal tax law that passed in December.

“Washington hit a button and launched an economic missile and it said New York on it, and it’s headed our way,” Cuomo said last month when rolling out his $168 billion spending plan.

Cuomo is upset the tax law caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000. But the windfall some richer New Yorkers have received could ultimately benefit the state.

“I think those who have done well from this federal tax plan, we’ll ask them to contribute more,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Assembly Democrats next month are likely to submit a budget proposal that hikes taxes on wealthier taxpayers, offsetting the gains they made in the tax cut approved by Congress.

“I’d anticipate in the Assembly’s resolution, you’ll see some examples of where we feel people have done better and done well from this tax plan, we’ll ask them to share some of that gain with the rest of the state,” Heastie said.

Cuomo himself has sought to take advantage of federal tax actions, imposing a 14 percent surcharge on health insurance companies that have benefitted from the tax cut.

All told, Cuomo has proposed $1 billion in new taxes and fees to help close a $4.4 billion shortfall. The tax proposals spurred Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco to launch his gubernatorial campaign against Cuomo.

“You have to get the economy going,” DeFrancisco said, “and you don’t get the economy going if you have another billion dollars in revenue enhancers in this year’s budget. In case you don’t have a Cuomo index or glossary, revenue enhancers are taxes and fees. That’s the opposite way to go.”

Complicaiting matters further is a push by Cuomo to create a payroll tax that could act as a workaround for the cap on state and local tax deductions. Democratic lawmakers in Albany are generally in favor of it even as the details are still being worked out.

“We have to find the best way,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I don’t think any of it will be easy, but I know all of it is necessary.”

The Legislature on Tuesday released a schedule pegging the final budget passage by March 29 — several days early.

DFS Warns Virtual Currencies Over Fraud

The state’s primary banking and financial regulator on Wednesday released an anti-fraud and manipulation guidance for virtual currencies amid what appears to be a bursting bubble for Bitcoin.

The guidance issued by the Department of Financial Services was framed a reminder for those who hold a money transmitter license that they are required to implement oversight measures that are aimed at preventing and deducting efforts to defraud virtual currency.

“DFS took the lead in 2015 in regulating the virtual currency market, and we continue to be vigilant concerning risks in these markets. Market manipulation presents serious risks, both to consumers and to the safety and soundness of financial services institutions,” said Superintendent Vullo. “As the cryptocurrency markets continue to evolve, DFS is directing virtual currency companies to take the necessary steps to guard against fraud, and to be extra vigilant about manipulation. By these actions, the market can evolve with strong regulatory supervision.”

At the same time, the virtual currency entities are required to identify and assess the fraud-related and similar risk areas such as manipulation of the market and provide an investigation of fraud or wrongdoing.

The department has so far issued virtual currency charters to six firms, including bitFlyer USA, Coinbase Inc., XRP II and Circle Internet Financial, and charters to Gemini Trust Company and itBit Trust Company.

A Budget Before March 30?

The top leaders in the Senate and Assembly on Tuesday formally have scheduled three days for budget bill voting: March 27, 28 and 29.

The schedule announced also pegged the release of the one-house budget resolutions to March 14, with the joint conference committees ending March 22.

Some may say this is optimistic to have a budget voted on so early in a deadline-driven place like the state Capitol. But the optimism is being fueled by an early start to Passover: Friday, March 30.

The budget is typically seen as “due” by March 31, since it is the final day of the fiscal year. It’s a misnomer in some respects since a “late” or “on time” budget weighs far less than, say, a budget that fulfills its legal obligation of being balanced and is fiscally responsible.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a benchmark of success over his years in office of getting budgets approved before the start of the fiscal year. That has generally been the case, save for last year when it was approved 10 days into April.

This year, the issues faces lawmakers and Cuomo have been especially complex: Congestion pricing for New York City, a $4.4 billion shortfall that’s being plugged with the help of slowed spending and tax and fee increases and the possible adoption of a payroll tax to either replace or supplant the personal income tax.

That’s no easy menu to digest between now and March 29.

ABO: 129 Authorities Have Failed To File

There are 129 public authorities that have failed to file required accountability and transparency reports, the Authorities Budget Office on Tuesday announced.

The ABO, which oversees the entities like authorities, public corporations and local development corporations, found that of the organizations that are yet to file, 90 are not-for-profit corporations while 28 are local public authorities.

Four state authorities have not filed the required paperwork and seven are IDAs. Failure to not comply with filing the needed information could lead to further enforcement action.

February 2018 Delinquent List by Nick Reisman on Scribd

State Lawmakers Want Tide Pods Repackaged

From the Morning Memo:

Two state lawmakers this week wrote to the CEO of Proctor & Gamble urging the company to repackage their Tide Pods product to be child resistant and have clear warning labels about ingesting the detergent.

“While our legislation would only protect New Yorkers, we urge Procter & Gamble and all manufacturers of colorful detergent pods to offer the same protections to the nation and immediately commit to the precautions set forth in our legislation,” wrote the lawmakers, Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.

“It’s time that you recognized the danger to those least able to protect themselves from a poisonous product packaged like candy. If not, these products should be removed from store shelves as soon as possible.”

The letter comes after a wave of social media posts from young people showed them eating the pods as part of the so-called “Tide Pod challenge.”

The lawmakers have backed legislation that would require safer packaging for the detergent product. But their letter is also calling on Proctor & Gamble, which owns the Tide detergent brand, to make the changes nationally or have the products removed from shelves in stores.

In the letter, the lawmakers write not enough has been done by the company to stop the viral social media challenge.

“The recent ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ has created a new category of victims, with 86 cases of intentional exposure in the first three weeks of 2018 alone,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

“While your recent public service campaign to stem the video ‘Tide Pod Challenge’ is to be commended, it falls far short of what is needed to prevent the continuing problem of accidental poisonings, as opposed to intentional ingestion by teenagers.”

Pro-Charter Schools Group Moves To Disband

A prominent pro-charter schools organization is shutting down after one of its top officials was fired following sexual harassment allegations.

“This is a sad day for everyone at Families for Excellent Schools,” said Bryan Lawrence, the board chairman of Families For Excellent Schools. “We are very proud of the work we’ve done to help thousands of families stand up for educational opportunity in their communities, and believe our vision of a world where every child has access to an excellent school has never been more important.”

The group had been one of the more visible pro-charter schools organizations in New York politics, backing rallies and lobby days that included teachers and children descending on the Capitol to bolster the issue with lawmakers.

In recent years, the issues surrounding charter schools — funding pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that was opposed by Assembly Democrats and teachers unions — had subsided. Meanwhile, a former top official at the group, Jeremiah Kittredge, was fired after a sexual harassment allegation surfaced.

Lawrence alluded to Kittredge being fired as one of the organization’s challenges.

“Unfortunately, after a series of challenges over the past year and particularly given recent events, we have determined that the support necessary to keep the organization going is not there,” he said.

“We are beginning the process of winding down our work. I want to thank all those who have given their heart and soul to this organization since its inception; I know they will continue to advocate for the families and communities we serve.”

Back In Albany, de Blasio Faces Transit Challenge

From the Morning Memo:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will be back in Albany today as his at-times boiling feud with Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been reduced to a relative simmer and as commuters continue to rage over the state of mass transit in the metropolitan area.

The mayor will testify this morning before a joint Assembly-Senate budget committee against the backdrop of an ongoing push to fix the subway, a catch-all cry to bolster mass transit through new funding and at least greatly reduce the delays and breakdowns that have marred the system.

De Blasio is not the only mayor who is going to be in town today. It’s “tin cup” day — mayors from around the state will be descending on Albany to discuss the impact of the $168 billion spending plan on their cities. The Big Five — New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers — typically discuss the impact of property taxes and the need to invest in infrastructure.

But when it comes to infrastructure, it doesn’t get to be a more daunting challenge than the subway, a political headache for Cuomo in an election year that hasn’t come with an easy solution. De Blasio, fresh off a landslide win for a second term, is unlikely to be as accommodating to help Cuomos secure, say, the Working Families Party ballot line this time around.

While Cuomo has called for a congestion pricing plan that would create a system of tolls during peak hours, de Blasio has preferred a catch-all tax increase on the rich to pay for it.

Senate Republicans, who at this point aren’t really getting along with either the governor or the mayor, have been urging New York City to put more money into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, suggesting the city is not paying its fair share.

DOT: Thruway Tourism Signs Will Be Replaced

As New York appeared to be on the verge of losing $14 million in highway funds over signage that violates federal rules, the state Department of Transportation on Friday afternoon announced signs advertising tourism destinations and promotions would be removed and updated to comply with the regulations.

In a statement, Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said the signs had “run their useful course” and a new campaign was being planned as part of the branded I Love NY program.

“Existing materials will be reused, but as the signs will be redesigned for the new campaign, we will consult with the FHWA during this process,” Driscoll said in the statement.

The campaign is being planned for the summer tourism season, he said, and will include print and TV advertising.

Even as the signs stirred warnings from federal officials that money earmarked for the state was at risk, Driscoll insisted the signs, part of a five-year push for the I Love NY program, were successful in directing motorists to points of interest in New York.

State lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Griffo earlier in the day, had urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to solve the problem with the tourism signs before the state lost out on the money.

Direct Care Campaign Adds To Coalition

The StateWide Advocacy Network has joined a campaign pushing for higher wages for direct care workers, the coalition announced this week.

The group, known as SWAN, is joining the #bFair2DirectCare advocacy campaign, which is backing an expedited funding plan in the budget for direct care workers’ pay.

“SWAN appreciates and thanks the Governor and the Legislature for providing the funding for the first step on the way to a living wage,” said Brad Pivar of Eastern New York Developmental Disabilities Advocates.

“Unfortunately, this is not enough to relieve the immediate and growing crisis. In no form of service, from one human being to another, is the continuity of the caregiver as critical as it is for persons with developmental disabilities. That’s why it’s essential that we begin to treat DSPs with the professional respect they so richly deserve.”

The campaign last week released survey results that showed staffing at non-profits that aid those with developmental disabilities has worsened. That includes 14.4 percent of staffing jobs remaining vacant and a glut of overtime hours being logged, more than 10 million.